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    "If we are conquer'd, the Paper Money I suppose must sink in our Hands"

    [William Vernon] Samuel Sanford Autograph Letter Signed. Two and one-quarter pages, 6.5" x 8", Rehoboth [Massachusetts], October 3, 1776, containing intriguing content on the adverse affects of the American Revolution on colonial business.

    In the eventful year of 1776, Newport, Rhode Island, businessman Samuel Sanford writes to his uncle, Newport slave trader William Vernon, regarding the devaluation of the colonies' paper currency and the military defense of Newport. Sanford, who had already fled Newport before the British for the safety of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, a mere 32 miles away, tries to answer his uncle's concerns about the future worth of the Continental currency: "You are pleased to ask my Opinion what will be best to do with your Paper Money? I wish I could tell you. If we are conquer'd, the Paper Money I suppose must sink in our Hands and will be no better than waste Paper. If we lay it not in any kind of goods there is no Place of safety for 'em in America; and it may greatly depreciate even if we maintain our ground. What will be best to do with it I know not. If the Colonies should now begin to lay a light Tax perhaps it might have a Tendency to prevent a Depreciation. But our Country may be conquer'd you say (I hardly dare allow myself to think of such a Thing or make the Supposition) then the Paper Money must sink in our Hands." The Continental Congress introduced the Continental currency in 1775. Due to many factors, including the counterfeiting efforts of the British, the currency was soon worthless - "not worth a Continental" as the saying went.

    The uncertainties of war created other worries for the two merchants, namely, in October 1776, the proximity of the British Army to Newport and the quality of the Colonial troops defending that northern center of the American slave trade. Neither Sanford nor Vernon had a high opinion of the defending colonial troops: "I have no greater Opinion of the Valour or discipline of the Troops stationed at Newport than you seem to have, but supposed they might have served as a Scare crow to keep out Wallace [a British frigate captain sent to Newport to enforce revenue laws]; Ayscough and such small Fellows, as I believe they did, or you'd have been plagued with 'em the whole summer past. But as the two Howes [Admiral of the British Fleet Richard Howe and his brother, William Howe, British Commander-in-Chief] with the Fleet & Army have now got possession of N. York and have more Ships & men than are sufficient to keep it I am apprehensive they will be employed in making Descents upon such Places as are not in our Condition to make a defence, (for I hardly think they will make any Attempt upon our Lines above N. York) therefore I fear for Newport." Sanford's fears were justified when, after Fort Washington fell to the British in November 1776, General Howe order General Henry Clinton with 6,000 troops to take Newport. In December, the town fell without a fight. William Vernon, who owned a magnificent house there, buried his silver and waited until he saw the British ships arrive in the harbor. Then he fled to Boston.

    Sanford, the founder of an insurance company that insured cargos of slaves, closes his letter by writing of his cousin, Samuel (another nephew of Vernon), whose privateer had recently captured a British "prize": "Cousin Saml. was here Saturday [...] on his Way to the Eastward after a fine Prize, he tells me, sent in by his Privateer." (Interestingly, one of the reasons Howe ordered the taking of Newport was because he needed a secured harbor, safe from New England's rebel privateers.) The pages of this letter are toned with folds. Some paper loss due to the original seal break at top of page three, causing a very few words of text to be lost. From the Papers of William Vernon.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2010
    8th-9th Tuesday-Wednesday
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